In 2015, the Chinese government officially announced in a governmental white paper the creation of the Digital Silk Road (DSR), also known as Information Silk Road, as a subset of the Belt Road Initiative (BRI) (NDRC 2015). According to Beijing’s officials, the DSR’s objective would be to create a China-centric digital infrastructure. This would serve both domestically and internationally to outsource industrial overcapacity, “facilitate the expansion of Chinese technology corporations, access large pools of data, and project Beijing sharp power (Adee 2015).
This paper will first describe the birth and development of the DSR, together with its decision-making and ties to China’s grand economic strategy.
Secondly, attention will focus on the DSR’s major and most recent projects, narrowing down to the “Digital Transformation Partnership Action Plan” (5G networks, Smart Cities, cloud-based platforms and artificial intelligence) and “The Internet Plus Strategy” (cellular networks, fibreoptic cables, and data centres, Beidou navigation system and e-commerce). Among this constellation of ventures and technologies, emphasis will be given to the relevance of e-commerce for both the enhancement of Chinese economy and its digital strategy. To this end, the paper will focus on Alibaba’s electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP) since in terms of progress and project relevance, it represents the pivotal case for Beijing’s digital and market success. This will be exemplified by Malaysia, the country that is at the most advanced stage in implementing the eWTP. This case study will also evaluate the feasibility of the Malaysian projects, the likelihood of success, as well as the downsides for those involved: both Chinese and South East Asian.
Finally, the study will pinpoint how Alibaba’s digital strategy, and China’s more broadly, is impacting and affecting Western countries, in terms of digital and market competitiveness and challenges to business models.